On the back of Geoff McFetridge opening his latest exhibition entitled “Floating” at Cooper Cole, I thought it would be a great idea to sit down with the talented graphic designer. We discussed the reasons why McFetridge chose this path to how his work has evolved and grown since beginning, to his life in Los Angeles and what is next, not to mention talking about the body of works for “Floating”.
Photography / Andrew Paynter
JAMES OLIVER / What was the catalyst for you taking a creative path as a career?
GEOFF MCFETRIDGE / I loved to draw when I was a little kid. I think that because of this I was typecast from a very young age as a creative person.
JO / Can you explain why you chose graphic design above any other medium of creativity?
GM / I grew up a suburb, in a fairly conservative part of Canada. I think it was very natural to believe that I had to have a job. Being a Graphic Designer was the most creative and open-ended “job” I could find. At the same time, design was actually a way to move away from the familiarity of drawing, and painting. The visual art I was exposed to was printed on Tshirts, and on skateboards, not in museums.
JO / How has skate culture influenced you, directly and indirectly?
GM / You could say that my youth was a binary pursuit. Skateboarding and drawing. In retrospect I see how skateboarding exposed me to what was really a very sophisticated visual culture. There were artists and designers that were really really talented and innovative, that if I was not a skater I would never have seen. I was absorbing it all as influence. The slickness of Jim Phillips, the looseness of Neil Blender, or Gonz, experimental design from David Carson or GSD, all the Dog Town stuff, the writing and photos and drawings of Craig Stecyck, MOFO, Pushead. It was powerful stuff.
I don’t know of a sub culture that would have the equivalent. Other subcultures cannot really compare to the variety and depth of 80s skateculture, because it was so broad and omnivorous.
I really left a lot of this stuff in the past, and moved on to other things. But my choices to stay on the West coast, and go to grad school at Cal Arts can have some connection to my past in the skateboarding world.
JO / How would you explain your style of work in detail?
GM / Like we talked about above. I chose Graphic Design as my main vehicle for self expression. At times this has felt like deciding to be the most creative housepainter of all time. As much as there are a lot of possibilities, there are also a lot of constraints. I think that I have really thrived in a constrained atmosphere.
For a long time I have spent more time working outside of graphic design, but I still hold onto that idea of constraints.
So even though I spend really a lot of my time doing work that will be hung in galleries, or on projects that are very open, I use constraints to progress the work, and to maintain a consistency from one project to the next.
At times I have described my process as, inventing cliches. I use a design methodology, but the concerns are less rational. I want to create work that feels like when people find something memorable about the everyday, something that they would take a picture of and put it on instagram. I like that by their witnessing the thing, a new thing is created. This is what I want; this is the situation I fabricate. I want my work to be completed within other peoples heads.
And maybe that is also another part of why I was drawn to become a designer to begin with; the broad access to heads.
JO / How has your work evolved over time?
GM / I used to do 10 versions of something and sort through them for a direction. I feel that I am now more inclined to jump to 9 or 10.
I have put way more emphasis on technique and finish. Technique really interests me now. Maybe because I am doing fewer versions.
I can draw way better than I could 10 years ago, even 1 year ago. Drawing is a reminder of how much there is to learn.
I do less of everything but get more out of each thing, so in the end, it feels like I am doing twice as much.
JO / Can you please walk us through your latest body of work entitled “Floating”. From the theme to the approach to the final outcome.
GM / This show “Floating” at Cooper Cole comes out of a about a years worth of drawing and painting. It is closely related to the show “Around Us & Between Us” that was at Ivory & Black in September. I worked on both shows simultaneously.
Floating comes from my thinking that when a magician does something to his assistant, he floats her. Floating is a sort of physical short hand for the unexplained. Floating is also a term used in framing. When something in graphics is floating it means that nothing is going over the edge of the image. I also did a lot of drawing for this show on the beach, or near the beach, so there are people in the water, and people on bikes, and playing sports. These things all have a physical quality that can involve floating.
I draw many many pieces when before I do a show, developing imagery. Images really carry my paintings as technically they are extremely simple and flat. For me it is the image that is central to every painting. The images come out of things I see, or imagine I saw, or ideas that I continue to explore and repeat. Much of the work involves figures, rendered in their most simplistic form. Once I have an image that resonates with me, I really refine it, reducing it to the point to where it is almost falling apart visually.
I am interested in visual cliches. For years my graphics came out of finding, and inventing and tweaking common language and graphics. The work was not referential though. I was not appropriating images. I have tried to make original work that somehow felt familiar, so familiar that it feels appropriated.
With the paintings I am applying this same practice in a slightly different way. I am less focused on visual language than on the physical world. I am attempting to capture physical things, ways people touch, or hold each other. These things that we do, that we see, or understand without seeing, it is the new common language that I am using in my work.
I have been doing the paintings for the past 3 years. It feels new but also the culmination of a lifetime of work.
JO / How has the art scene changed over the years that you have been involved?
GM / The art scene used to be so cool. Now it’s so lame. Ha Ha.
JO / What do you appreciate about living in Los Angeles?
GM / I appreciate that it is very normal to be outside all day here. To be in the hills or in the water. The resources for making stuff is pretty amazing too.
JO / What’s in store for Geoff McFetridge in the near future?
GM / I am doing a large mural that will Wrap the Walker Art Center while it is under construction early 2013. In January 2013 I will have a show of Ceramics work I did with Heath Ceramics. In this show will also be works on paper, wallpaper and fabrics and new products. It is at Play Mountain in Tokyo, and then I will go skiing in Asahi Dake.
JO / Finally, words to live by?
GM / Go before you Know
“You have to adjust yourself to it because it’s hard work. And when I was digging that hole, the ground was extremely dry. The ground was very hard, like chipping limestone almost, you know? And so you adjust yourself to the task and if you go out there and say, “Boy I just hate doing this and I got to get it done,” you’re probably not going to do a good job. And you might just forget, not even bother. But if you can find that spot – I suppose it’s like running – I used to be a swimmer and swim laps, and you just have to be there with what you’re doing. Your mind could actually go a lot of other places, but your body has to be there with what you’re doing. It’s a good discipline. In the studio, I don’t do a lot of work that requires repetitive activity. I spend a lot of time looking and thinking and then try to find the most efficient way to get what I want, whether it’s making a drawing or a sculpture, or casting plaster or whatever. But part of the enjoyment I take in it is finding the most efficient way to do it, which doesn’t mean the corrections aren’t made. I like to have a feeling of the whole task before I start, even if it changes.”